Work and mental health: learning from return-to-work rehabilitation programs designed for workers with musculoskeletal disorders

Int J Law Psychiatry. 2007 Jul-Oct;30(4-5):444-57. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2007.06.014. Epub 2007 Jul 27.


Despite the high costs associated with mental health problems in the workplace, few studies have yet been published on the design and evaluation of return-to-work rehabilitation programs for workers with mental health problems. In fact, the best-documented return-to-work rehabilitation programs concern workers with musculoskeletal disorders (MSKD). For this clientele, a disability paradigm has been adopted which explains the multicausality of work disability. Long-term work disability is no longer seen simply as the consequence of impairment, but rather as the result of interactions between the worker and three main systems: the health care, work environment and financial compensation systems. A return to work is thus influenced by a complex set of interrelated factors that must be taken into account in any intervention. Parallels can inevitably be drawn in the field of mental health in the workplace, where individual and organizational factors are involved and must be taken into account in the return-to-work process. This paper presents the first results of an exploratory study aimed at determining the possible links between work rehabilitation programs for workers with MSKD and those for workers with mental health problems. To this end, the components of a work rehabilitation program for workers with MSKD, the Therapeutic Return to Work (TRW) program which addresses psychological factors, work environmental factors and factors related to the involvement of the various stakeholders in the rehabilitation process, are described through a multiple-case analysis and mapping of interventions. The results support the relevance of adopting the disability paradigm and considering the return-to-work clinical activities conducted with workers with MSKD (and their mechanisms of action) in the design of work rehabilitation programs for workers with mental health problems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / rehabilitation*
  • Program Development
  • Program Evaluation
  • Quebec
  • Retrospective Studies